Paving the Way to Peace - OperationEnthusiast (2024)

Space, an endless vast area of emptiness. Dotted with stars, planets, nebulas, and other celestial bodies. Despite its seemingly endless size, only a small amount of it is populated with intelligent lifeforms.

Humans, once restricted to their home of Earth, now roam the stars. Centuries of conflict, research, and trial and error, they had finally figured out how to travel the stars consistently and relatively safely. No more the idea of space travel and colonization shall be restricted to paper, the big screen, or the wild imagination many humans had.

It was a reality now. As with all things in life, the luster and amazement that it came with at first would quickly die out. It was a way of life now and none best exemplifies it than a man, millions of miles away from his home planet.

The planet of Ming, home to nearly 55 million people with the city of Qianxing housing the majority of the population. That population being mostly of Chinese descent. “Mostly”, due to the fact it is currently under occupation which is just now entering its second year. 28-year-old Captain Trần Huy Vinh would be one of many occupiers.

He would be currently sleeping in bed, snoring softly and occasionally smacking his lips. Sweet dreams filled his mind with images of fresh food back home. Cơm tấm with fresh and hot pork, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickled carrots and radish, fried egg, and served with a side of fish sauce. A simple but delicious dish he couldn’t resist.

Or maybe a nice and simple phở with brisket and bean sprouts. Or a bánh mì with ham. Bánh tét fried. Bánh xèo with peanut sauce. Food, food, food. It was all Vinh could dream of.

That was until a ring of an alarm put an end to all of it. A loud but soft melody plays from his PDA on his nightstand. Grumbling, Vinh rolls over and feels around before finding the device. With the tap of the screen, he puts it on snooze before going back to sleep.

Five minutes would pass before another alarm rang. He grumbles some more before putting it on snooze again. Another five minutes and another alarm rang out. This time, Vinh wouldn’t be having it.

With a sudden burst of energy, he thrashes around in bed before lunging out and grabbing his PDA. This time, he shuts the alarm for good. Sitting up, he looks down at the screen of his PDA. The date was March 3rd, 2154. Time would currently be 0500 hours.

“Christ…” Vinh mumbles. Scrolling through his PDA, he tunes into a live radio station before finally getting out of bed.

“Xin chào! Good morning, every Vietnamese stationed in the Changdao Sector! I’m your host Bach An Khang coming at you live from station Jin orbiting planet Ming!” The voice of the radio announcer, Khang, filled the room.

Standing up, Vinh takes a moment to wipe his mouth of drool, smack his lips, and scratch his back. He takes the moment to stretch out his arms before bending down to give his legs and back some attention.

“Breaking news, the long-awaited meeting has finally just concluded between the leaders of the SEAC, UKR, Taiwan, and Japan in the Yamamoto Sector. With both sides coming to an agreement regarding occupying former Chinese held sectors, planets, moons, stations, and other holdings. All territories are to be under continued joint occupation by the SEAC and Blue Dragons for the foreseeable future until the Provisional Chinese and Taiwanese government back home in Sol can merge and transition. Even then, the former territories are to be given a chance to vote on either being returned to Sol authority or become the first independent nations in space,” Khang announced the big news of the day. Yawning, Vinh tiredly drags his feet along the floor and towards the bathroom.

“Reactions to the meeting and decision made were mixed. While Taiwan and other Chinese territories are mostly in agreement with small pockets of firm resistance, the mainland of China back in Sol is fully against the decision with protests breaking out in the provisional capital of Shanghai and other cities. Some nations apart of the SEAC including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar are not interested in reforming the government and keeping their troops in occupied territory. Meanwhile, The Cape Federation and Australia are in full support of the decision whilst the NAU are against it as well, calling the decision of continued occupation as a thinly veiled annexation of the territories,” Khang continues. Hearing that last part, Vinh snorted as he squeezed out some paste onto his toothbrush.

“Speaking of resistance, in other news, another group of remnant Chinese military forces surrendered to the Indonesian ship of Saka in the Fals Sector…” Khang moved on to other news which Vinh would tune out by then as he concentrated on brushing his teeth. Molars, canines, front teeth, back and front, he made sure no spot went unbrushed.

Foam began to form, and as he finished brushing his teeth, he went to get the rest of his mouth, both roof and tongue. Ensuring his entire mouth is minty fresh, he spits out the foam into his sink. He’d now turn on the faucet, washing down the foam.

Grabbing a cup, he fills it with water before taking a swig and rinsing his mouth. A minute passes with swishing before he spits some of it out only to then lean back to gargle.

Thoroughly rinsed, he spits the rest of the water out. Now for the finishing touch, washing his face. He first splashes water on himself. Then rubs off any and all sweat and oil on his face. He then finishes by rubbing the corners of his eyes, mouth, nose, and other troublesome spots.

“... That’s all we got for intergalactic news, now onto the weather! Today looks absolutely stellar with clear skies, sunny day, and a humidity sitting at five percent. Hope all you grunts on the ground enjoy it,” Khang relays the weather.

With his face washed off of sweat and dirt, Vinh dries off with a towel before going back to put on his uniform. It wouldn’t take too long. Just your standard K21 uniform. To top it off would be a light jungle green mũ cối, or pith helmet, emblazoned with the insignia of the Vietnamese Army. Something that should be outdated at this point in time, yet still it somehow remains.

“As for local news, reports of remnant activity have been spotted near Gan De Pass. No attempts have been made to contact them yet…” Khang moved on, but before he could go more into detail, Vinh promptly turned off the connection. Time to start the day.

With a deep breath, Vinh slowly opens up the door to the outside. Greeting him would be a dimly lit sky and rows upon rows of tents and prefab buildings. Voices and shouts can be heard as the rest of his company starts to rise from their bunks.

Stepping out, Vinh closes and locks the door to his quarters which turned out to be a trailer. Equipped with air conditioning, septic tank, and is connected to a nearby water tanker as with other trailers next to his. The perks of being an officer.

“Captain Trần!” A voice addresses him. Turning, he’s greeted by his trusted second-in-command, Lieutenant Nguyễn Minh Ðan. He would give a quick salute to Vinh as he approached him.

“Lieutenant,” Vinh responded and returned the salute.

“Breakfast is just being served. Instant beef phở with some fresh fruits. Well, if you could call leftover fruits that fell off the back of a truck fresh,” The Lieutenant informs Vinh.

“Sounds delicious,” Vinh dryly states. With a nod, the two men made their way to the mess tent.

The mess tent is packed full of soldiers and officers, men and women, recruits and veterans alike. They dig into their meals while chatting amongst each other. Some, about the events of yesterday, news they heard recently, or even predicting what is to happen today.

Vinh would take no part in any conversation. Instead, he quietly slurps his noodles and sip on his cup of instant coffee. Ðan sat next to him, quietly eating as well. A healthy working relationship. No one says a thing and they enjoy a nice moment of quietness and solitude amongst a sea of chatter bugs.

The moment won’t last long as a couple people spotted them by themselves at a mostly empty table. What followed would be the slam of the tray and a familiar face sitting down across from them.

“Yo, yo, yo! What’s up Vinny?” The woman greets the duo. PFC Nguyễn Ánh Lệ, their squad’s grenadier. A bespectacled young woman with too much energy to spare and is quite the troublemaker in their platoon.

“Oh boy here we go…” Ðan groans. Just when they thought they were getting a peaceful breakfast to themselves.

“What did I say about calling me that?” Vinh asks, annoyed by the nickname given to him by the grenadier.

“Come on you guys, cheer up! New day, new us!” Lệ remarks before getting a mouthful of fruit.

“Keep it on the down low please? Not everyone can have the same enthusiasm as you ready to go first thing in the morning,” Another man states as he sat down next to Lệ. Sergeant Văn Thanh Bảo, the other group leader in Vinh’s squad, and the second oldest guy in the company.

One by one, more people from Vinh’s squad showed up and sat down at his table. PFC Nguyễn Quang Vũ, their rocketman and absolutely unrelated to Lệ and Ðan. Lệ and Ðan are also unrelated for that matter. Despite being unrelated, Vũ and Lệ may as well be with the number of shenanigans they get into.

Private Chử Bích Hải, their newest addition to the squad and the unfortunate assistant to Vũ. A little green but means well. Then came the muscle of the squad. PFC Trang Duy Cao. Quiet, does what they’re told, and always the one to reel in Lệ and Vũ after their usual pranks.

Next was Corporal Võ Anh Diệu. Whenever Vinh and Ðan weren’t around, Bảo and himself were to be the first and second-in-command of the squad respectively. A family man who happens to be a bit of a tech wizard.

Finally, there was PFC La Thanh Sa. A tired man who constantly has to down coffee, energy drinks, tablets, bars, and other stuff to keep him awake. Even then, some may find him somehow sleeping in the most peculiar spots.

Quite the gaggle of eccentrics Vinh has somehow personal command over. Despite their quirks, Vinh was proud to have him by his side. Trustworthy, friendly, and always around to help one another.

Some of them he knew since the start of the war which would take them to this very planet they are on and occupying. From the defense of Hanoi, to clearing the road to Beijing, and finally volunteering to go into space to reinforce ground forces on this planet. There isn’t any other squad he’d rather have command over.

Still, it’d be nice if they could stay quiet while he enjoyed his meal. Once Lệ and Vũ had settled down at the table, the chattering began.

“Phở again huh? Man when are we going to get some actual fresh stuff around here?” Vũ wonders aloud as he plays around with his noodles.

“Asking the wrong gal. I’m about as much in the dark as you. You’d think we’d be getting that stuff already considering how many f*cking animals are out on the streets. You’ve been to the city market? sh*t’s loaded with pigs, yet we don’t get a single one for ourselves? f*cking bullsh*t is what that is,” Lệ bemoaned over the fact.

“You guys forget our mission here? We’re here to stabilize the planet and keep the peace. That means no taking food from the local populace unless they actually give us some,” Bảo chimed in.

“Aww, but the pork! All that beef! Chicken…” Lệ continues to whine before taking another sip of broth.

“Lệ, stop please,” Cao promptly reprimanded the grenadier. Huffing, Lệ goes back to eating. The table went quiet again. Just for a moment until Sa yawns loudly. Everyone looks over to see the man starting to slump over as he fights to keep his eyes open.

“Sa, you okay?” Diệu shakes the man awake. Jolting up, Sa nodded his head as he rubbed his eyes.

“Y-Yeah yeah yeah… I’m… I’m up,” Sa tiredly responded. Grabbing his coffee, he takes a big swig out of it.

“First cup of the day and you’re already falling asleep man. You had enough sleep last night?” Vũ asked. Sa nodded.

“Of course… I fell asleep at the same time like the rest of you guys…” Sa affirms.

“I’m just getting over morning grogginess that’s all. So don’t…” Sa starts to reassure them only to pause for a moment as he yawns again.

“... So don't worry about it. I’ll be energetic and ready by the afternoon,” Sa finishes. Lệ and Vũ could only snicker in response.

“If you say so, just don’t let me catch you sleeping on duty alright? Or else it’ll be more than just your ass that’s going to get it,” Bảo warns. Lệ and Vũ would start to laugh out louder only for Cao to put an end to it quickly by lightly bonking them both on the head.

Vinh will have to admit, as noisy they can be, the banter between his squad was amusing to watch sometimes. Going back to his meal, Vinh was just about to finish until he felt a tap on his shoulder. Looking over, he sees it’s one of his other Lieutenants. They greeted him with a quick salute.

“Captain sir, the Colonel wants to see you as soon as possible,” The Lieutenant informed Vinh. Vinh looks over at Ðan who just shrugs.

“Okay, I’ll be there. You’re dismissed lieutenant,” Vinh ordered. Nodding, the Lieutenant walks off, leaving Vinh to wonder. Just what is it this time?

The Hall of Sun, the assembly hall for government functions of the city. It was named after the captain of the colony ship that would land at this exact spot and oversaw the first couple years of the city being built.

Currently, it serves as the joint headquarters for SEAC and Blue Dragon forces. Vinh would be waiting outside the office of the commander of all Vietnamese units on the planet. Colonel Hồ Nam Việt.

The door opened, and out came the head of Việt’s assistant.

“Captain Trần?” They asked. Vinh promptly nodded, confirming his identity.

“Colonel Việt is ready to see you now,” They informed Vinh and would open up the door wider for him to enter. Getting up, Vinh wasted no time entering the office.

The office was a little messy with paperwork around. All decorations pertaining to the previous government were removed, with only two new decoration pieces being the flag of Vietnam hanging from the wall, and the emblem of the PAVN hanging just below the flag.

Sitting at his desk, Colonel Việt looks up from his stack of unfinished work. Locking eyes, Vinh saluted the older man.

“Colonel Việt sir,” Vinh greeted. Nodding, the Colonel returns the salute.

“Captain Vinh, at ease,” Việt responded. Vinh does so as ordered.

“You wanted to see me sir?” Vinh asked, earning another nod from the Colonel.

“Of course. Not for any trouble mind you. I instead have a little surprise for you,” Việt reveals. A hint of confusion could be seen in Vinh’s eyes.

“Surprise sir?” Vinh asks again. Looking over at his assistant, Việt motions for them to leave the office. They promptly do so, shutting the door before leaving.

“Vinh, I understand that out of all the companies here you’re the most experienced. Some of your men, including yourself, have been fighting since the war started. Frankly you coming here has been a godsend…” The Colonel begins. As much as he’s being complimented, Vinh can’t help but sense something is off. And he’d be right.

“... Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for your paperwork,” Việt finishes. There it is. Vinh’s shoulders slump a little, reminded of his infamous reputation regarding “paperwork”.

“Vinh, I understand that as a soldier, one shouldn’t concern themselves too much with bureaucratic work. That’s what desk jockeys are for. But we as a modern force need to organize ourselves if we are to operate at peak efficiency. That means keeping inventory constantly, reporting casualties, requesting new equipment, and et cetera,” Việt explains, trailing off into what would be a lecture no doubt. Vinh would be doing his best not to roll his eyes so far into his head, lest he wants to be seeing the folds of his brain.

“Paperwork is needed so we can keep tabs on everything, and prevent things like theft, misplacement of equipment, ensuring we don’t run low on our stocks, or even missing personnel,” Việt continues. The two men pause, silence reigning in the room. Việt would break that silence with a sigh soon after.

“Look, I know what I just said is mostly not true and perhaps even asinine. Still, the suits back home on Earth demand we keep up paperwork. That means you need to pick up the pace with it, because I have stacks upon stacks of unfinished work from you alone. Your previous CO and I may have looked past it before. We needed all able and experienced hands focused on fighting the war. That part of the war is over. Now, it is time for reconstruction and reorganization. And that starts with picking up the pen,” Việt would level with Vinh. As much as he hated doing paperwork, Vinh can’t help but admit the Colonel is right. The war is over, shooting rifles and clearing buildings aren’t going to help fix a war-torn city any faster. Sighing, Vinh nods.

“Yes Colonel. I understand, I’ll do my best to catch up on that work,” Vinh reluctantly agreed.

“Good, I’m glad we could come to an understanding. Still, there’s that surprise I mentioned,” Việt reminded Vinh.

“I’m not that cruel to just let you and your buddy Ðan do all the work. Which is why I brought some help,” Việt explains, causing Vinh to narrow his eyes in confusion.

“Help?” Vinh repeated. Just as he said so, the door opens and in comes Việt’s assistant again.

“They’re here sir,” The assistant states.

“Good, bring them in,” Việt ordered. Opening the door, a woman entered the office. She looked young, probably around Lệ’s age. Her hair was a dark-brown cut into a bob, and her eyes a hazel color.

What was most obvious to notice was her uniform was not the ones Vinh and Việt were wearing. Her flag patch would give away her true origins. She was Japanese.

“Captain, I’d like you to meet Lieutenant Kida. She just transferred here from the Yamamoto Sector and will be under your command,” Việt explains.

“What? My command?” Vinh promptly questioned, wondering why he is getting a Japanese Lieutenant.

“Lieutenant Kida here has been eagerly asking for transfer to here for a while now but couldn’t seeing as how all positions requiring her expertise were all filled. That was until I myself put forward a request to have her transferred to us. Her expertise of course being desk work,” Việt starts to explain to a confused Vinh.

“Sir, this is absurd I-” Vinh starts to object, only for the Colonel to hold up a hand.

“Kida herself here is also eager to be out in the field so consider this a win-win situation. Kida gets to go out on patrol and into the field while you yourself have another hand helping you out with paperwork,” Việt finishes, still leaving Vinh a bit confused, however.

“As of note, while Kida is a member of the JSDF she is exempt from following the orders of any officer from the JSDF side unless necessary, meaning you yourself are responsible for her as commanding officer. Speaking of, not only will she have responsibilities to help you out with desk work, but she also has the power to act as a liaison between any JSDF unit. That means whatever resources they have; you have access to it from now on. Is that understood, Captain?” Việt says as he looks to the man expecting an answer.

“Y-Yes sir,” Vinh stammers out.

“Good, you’re dismissed,” Việt waves the man off before looking back down at his work. Vinh would try to muster up something to say only to give up before looking back at the aforementioned Lieutenant Kida.

She smiles, standing at attention for him. Shaking his head, Vinh exits the room with Kida following close behind. Việt’s assistant would shut the door as soon as they left. Just like that, Vinh is left with another lieutenant to look out for. A green, desk jockey, Japanese lieutenant.

“Pleasure to meet you, Captain Trần. Y’know Had the opportunity to look you up before I came here…” Kida tries to start some small talk. Vinh can’t help but roll his eyes, here it comes.

“... Quite the record. A veteran of the defense of Hanoi, the March to Beijing campaign, the Battle of Wuhan, and breaking the siege on Qianxing. It is an honor and great excitement to serve under a man like yourself!” Kida excitedly lists off Vinh’s time during the war.

“I’m just as excited to get out on the field for the first time! I’ve been stuck at a desk since the start of the war. Though I missed my chance to fight, I’m still just as ready to give it my all and keep the pe-” Kida yaps away. Before she could continue even more, Vinh stops in his tracks. Kida nearly bumps into the man before looking at him curiously. Vinh takes a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose as he does so.

“Lieutenant Kida, was it? I am most glad you have the opportunity now to be here on this planet. And equally as glad to have you with my unit…” Vinh states in a deadpan manner.

“... But, let me level with you for a moment. Out here, you’re not going to get what the movies show you. You’re not going to get what all those videos you see on the net show you. You’re not going to get what some of the ‘vets’ regale you with their tales. You, Lieutenant, are here for one thing and one thing only. Doing your job. And with that job, I have two rules for you. Number one, don’t be stupid. Number two, expect nothing. Do I make myself clear?” Vinh confided with the young Lieutenant. Caught off guard, she would just nod in response.

“Good. Personally, I don’t have anything against you. The last thing I need however are fresh out of boot or academy soldiers getting themselves hurt or even killed over mistakes,” Vinh finishes and crosses his arms. The two stood there in the middle of the lobby. All manner of people passed by them. Officers of all armies stationed here, government workers both newly instated and holdovers from the previous government, and maintenance workers fixing the damages sustained from the war.

The two realize this silence among a sea of work being done and awkwardly look around, trying to come up with something to say after everything Vinh had dumped. Thankfully, they wouldn’t have to deal with it for much longer, as coming in through the front door would be Lieutenant Ðan.

“Ah, Captain! Finished meeting the Colonel?!” Ðan calls out to Vinh. Looking over, Vinh waves him over.

“Yeah!” Vinh shouts back.

“Great, cause the platoon leads are assembled and ready for briefing sir,” Ðan informs the captain. Glancing over, he just now noticed Lieutenant Kida.

“Who’s she?” Ðan asks as he points over at Kida.

“I’ll explain on the way. Come on you two,” Vinh pushes introductions to the side for now. Now is the time to finally get to work. Ðan glances over from Vinh walking away to Kida who was just standing still. She cracks a smile again and waves her hand at Ðan.

“Alright then…” Ðan would not press the issue any further and instead followed Vinh along with Kida.

Vinh looks over at his lieutenants, Ðan and Kida included, doing a quick headcount. Everyone here and accounted for, Vinh turns over to the whiteboard behind him.

“Right, let’s cut to the chase people. Company is on patrol duty again today,” Vinh starts his briefing. Marker in hand, he circles an area on the city map.

“This area of the city will be our AO for the day. ROE is the same as always, check for suspicious people, report in any and all activity, do not engage any enemy insurgents unless fired upon or if ordered by high command, and assist with humanitarian aid when possible and given permission by your CO,” Vinh went over basic information of the day. While the lieutenant’s a part of his company for a while now were relaxed and listening somewhat closely, Kida was leaning in and listening intently.

“Platoon one, which is you Ðan, will be with me patrolling the area around the police station. Platoon two, you’ll be patrolling around the warehouses. Platoon three, you have vehicular patrol duty meaning you’ll be patrolling around the shopping mall area. Platoon four, you also have vehicular patrol duty. You’ll be taking the area around the local clinic. Any questions?” Vinh puts forth as he circles, draws lines, and other symbols on the map. One hand raised, and it was Kida herself.

“Captain Trần, where will I be?” Kida asked. Vinh puts the cap back on the marker and sets it down.

“For the time being, you are alone,” Vinh answers. Kida curiously tilts her head in response.

“While you do have authority to command enlisted, you will not be in charge of a platoon for the moment. As such you’ll be an extra within Lieutenant Nguyễn’s platoon. Which also means I’ll be keeping a close eye on you,” Vinh explains. Kida slumps slightly. Shame, but is to be expected. She felt a pat on her shoulder by a comforting Ðan.

“It’s alright. Some of us would kill to not be in charge of an entire bunch of country to city born dimwits that us slightly more educated country to city born dimwits have the pleasure of babysitting,” Ðan jokingly comforts Kida. The other lieutenants laugh with Vinh even cracking a slight smile before clearing his throat, earning the attention of everyone again.

“Unless you have more questions, I’d say everyone is dismissed. Gear up, we move out in ten,” Vinh orders. The tent would be cleared out as everyone gathers their respective platoon to arm up.

Vinh, Ðan, Kida, and their squad checked over their equipment before equipping them. MICH combat helmet, Fusion Body Armor, Knee and elbow pads, STV-380 rifles, Jericho 941 pistols, magazines, IFAK, hand radios, and hand grenades.

It was a standard patrol so Vũ and Hải weren't bringing along the RPG and any rockets. Didn’t stop Lệ from attaching her OPL40M underbarrel grenade launcher to her rifle. Cao, along with arming himself with a Negev machine gun, puts on his 60-liter backpack carrying extra spare mags for the squad and more ammo for his weapon.

Everyone would be ready to go, except for a certain someone. Lieutenant Kida. She would be slower to put on her Type 88 combat helmet and Type 18 AVS, both camouflaged in the Type III pattern like her uniform. Armor on, she grabs everything else like the others have. She then grabs and holsters her SFP9-M pistol before grabbing her Howa Type 20 rifle.

Geared up, she turns and stands proudly with her weapon. Everyone stares at her for a moment.

“Ready!” Kida announces. Smiling, Lệ leans over to Vũ.

“Như một đứa trẻ sẵn sàng đi học,” She whispers. The two of them giggle for a moment.

“What?” Kida curiously looks over at the two.

“You look great,” Vũ replies promptly, still cracking a smile.

“Come on people, move out,” Vinh orders. All armed and equipped, Vinh leads everyone out of the armory and towards the gate leading out of their prefabricated base built upon the front lawn of the Hall of Sun and out into the city proper.

The gate opens, and soon Vinh is joined by the rest of his company. Platoon 3 and Platoon 4 drove out of the base on Dongfeng EQ2050s with Platoon 1 and 2 following them on foot. Soon after, everyone went their separate ways to their respective areas. Kida took the moment to look back at the gate as it was closing.

“Hey Nippon! Keep up!” Lệ shouts. Surprised, Kida quickly turns back forward and jogs over to her group. Kida could hardly believe it. Millions of miles away from her home planet in the Yamamoto Sector. Taking part in peacekeeping operations with an entirely different unit, a part of an entirely different nation from her own.

What a life she is living in the moment right about now.

A good half-hour passes by walking around the streets of the city. The platoon is met with people rising up just now and preparing their shops, taking an early stroll, or commuting to work. The platoon marches down the street with an eerie silence reigning over them despite how loud the streets are starting to become. Kida in particular has not said a word since leaving the base.

The sight of the police station would come into view. Along with the sight of police officers that have long since been cooperating since the takeover of the planet. Once they’re near, Vinh would hold up his hand to halt the platoon.

“Lieutenant Nguyễn, Lieutenant Kida. You two are with me. Rest of you spread out and secure the perimeter,” Vinh orders before climbing up the steps into the police station. Ðan and Kida quickly followed him inside the station while everyone else watched the immediate area around them.

Once Vinh, Ðan, and Kida were out of view, Sa would sit and propped himself up against a tree. He rested his rifle on his lap and lowered his helmet over his eyes. Bảo immediately sees this and sighed.

“Private…” Bảo was about to reprimand the man. Sa lifted his helmet up to look at Bảo.

“The captain always takes a while when inside the station. Just a quick power nap sergeant. Please?” Sa pleaded with the man. Shaking his head, Bảo just looks away and continues to scan the area.

“Fine…” Bảo reluctantly permits. Smiling, Sa just lowers his helmet again to get some much needed shut eye.

Inside the station, officers work at their desk, chat amongst each other, or walk out of the station to go out on patrol. Vinh would walk over to the reception desk. The woman working there notices him and would look up at Vinh expectantly.

“Captain Chang here?” Vinh asks. The woman points behind her and towards the office cubicles.

“Over there, captain,” The woman points out. With a nod of thanks, Vinh marches over with Ðan and Kida in tow. They pass by officers and other staff working and going over information regarding the most recent crimes taking place in the city. Since the takeover, law and order has been spotty and only now have the police been getting a reign on things with help from the military. Speaking of the military, the police had agreed to also be on the lookout for Chinese remnant forces hiding among the civilian populace in the city and surrounding areas.

Captain Chang would be many of those liaisons between the police and military. He would shortly be found leaning over a fellow officer’s shoulder and going over a map of the city and the movements of suspected Chinese insurgents.

“Captain Chang,” Vinh calls out. Looking up, Chang smiles once he’s greeted to a familiar face.

“Captain Trần, pleasure to see you today,” Chang walked over and held his hand out. Vinh would shake the man’s hand.

“Pleasure is all mine,” Vinh returns the courtesy.

“Heh, so you’re on patrol here today?” Chang asked.

“That’s right,” Vinh answered.

“Good, just in time as well. We may have got ourselves a possible insurgent cell,” Chang informed. Vinh would go from relaxed to a more serious look.

“Where?” Vinh asked.

“Come with me,” Chang motions for Vinh to follow him. Together, they head back to the cubicle Chang came from and would point down at the city map. Ðan and Kida peered over from the cubicle wall to get a look as well.

“Reports came in recently of suspicious looking individuals breaking curfew and carrying strange packages coming in and out of a cafe by the local market. I had men staked the place out for some time, but nothing came up. Tried to even search the place once, but my men weren’t allowed to go any further,” Chang explains.

“Why not?” Kida asks. Looking up at the woman, Chang stares at her for a bit before looking over at Vinh.

“Long story short, she’s with us for the time being,” Vinh informs the police captain. Chuckling, Chang’s gaze returns to Kida.

“Well usually, before the war, we’d go in and bust whoever. But since the change in government, we aren’t exactly allowed to do that anymore unless given permission by both my higher ups and the military. But since you guys are on patrol here today…” Chang would lead on.

“Say no more, I’ll have my men check it out,” Vinh finishes Chang’s suggestion. With a nod, Chang looks back down at the map.

“Other than that, nothing too out of the ordinary the past few days. Drunks, prostitutes, all the same nowadays. Good luck out there, captain,” Chang waves Vinh off. Finished, Vinh marches back to the lobby area.

“So, a suspected insurgent cell that is possibly hidden in a cafe. A little cliche don’t you think?” Ðan pointed out.

“Where do you expect them to hide out at? The toilet?” Vinh replied. Ðan laughed. Kida however would march up to Vinh’s side, grabbing his attention.

“Weirder things have happened before Captain. Like this one time, long ago, there was a story about a man who crawled his way into a septic tank of the restroom and spied on women using it,” Kida informed Vinh who was more or less stunned by what he was hearing. Ðan could only laugh harder at the sight. Kida looks curiously at Ðan before back at Vinh who just shakes his head at the thought of that.

“And I thought Lệ had an imagination…” Vinh muttered. The two men continued on walking back out the station while a confused Kida followed them.

“Something I said, Captain?” Kida called out curiously. Exiting the station, all of Platoon 1 could be seen either guarding the area, chatting amongst each other, or snoozing off like Sa. Spotting the officers leaving, Bảo looks over at the entire platoon.

“Attention!” Bảo announces. Everyone immediately sprang up from whatever they were doing and quickly gathered around the base of the steps leading up to the station entrance. Everyone gathered, Vinh stepped forward.

“Alright everyone listen up! From here on out we’re splitting up into squads. Squad one will be with me patrolling the local market. Squad two, you’ll be in charge of patrolling around the police station. Squad three, you get the office building over by the parking garage. And Squad four, you’ll handle the computer cafe. Patrol ends at around thirteen-thirty hours. Regroup at the police station by then. That’ll be all. Gather up in your respective squads and move out,” Vinh quickly briefs the platoon before splitting them up. Everyone would gather up with their respective squad and squad leader as ordered to. Vinh would gather his squad, Kida included.

“Come on everyone,” Vinh motions everyone to follow as he walks off towards the direction of the local market. Ðan would start to follow only to feel his shoulder being tapped on. Turning, he saw Kida by his side.

“We’re not taking the entire platoon to the cafe near the local market?” Kida asked.

“If it is indeed a possible insurgent cell, wouldn’t it be wiser to have enough men on site just in case?” Kida voiced her worries.

“Insurgents? We getting some action?” Lệ excitedly leans in alongside Vũ. Must have heard Kida. Ðan would just wave the two off.

“Well lieutenant, you know how all the generals and other officers up top keep stressing about hearts and minds?” Ðan starts to explain. Kida would just nod along, not quite getting it at first.

“You know how with the Chinese and as a matter of fact in most of Asia, the culture puts an importance on appearance to others?” Ðan adds. Kida nods again, still not getting it.

“What would the populace think if we showed up to one building with an entire platoon, housing suspected insurgents, only to find it’s nothing?” Ðan painted a hypothetical.

“We’d look paranoid?” Kida suggested. Ðan would nod.

“Not only that but too reactive, oppressive, and intrusive,” Ðan adds on. Kida would finally understand.

“Unlike the Americans, we can’t do that type of stuff all the time. We have a tightrope to walk on. We make ourselves look bad; we make our entire operation look bad. And we can’t have nearly half the population turned against now, can we?” Ðan explained.

“I suppose, especially since the war has been over for a year now…” Kida reminded.

“Right, hearts and minds Kida. Hearts and minds,” Ðan repeats.

“The only hearts and minds I’d like to enforce is the one where parts go splat and the body goes slack,” Lệ pops in with a morbid joke. Ðan just clicks his tongue before pushing the woman ahead who just laughs it off.

“Look alive people,” Vinh calls out. Looking up ahead, everyone in the squad is met with the local market before them. Storefronts are opened, with owners putting out their products and customers browsing the stalls.

“Rush hour is starting to come in. We’re going to have to split up into groups here,” Vinh recommended.

“Group one will be me, Private Quang, and Private Chử. Group two will be Lieutenant Nguyễn, Private Ánh, and Private La. Group three will be Sergeant Văn, Corporal Võ, and Private Trang,” Vinh splits the squad into groups. Once everyone was split up, he glances over at Kida. Right, she’s with them.

“Kida, you’ll be plus one to Lieutenant Nguyễn’s group,” Vinh lumps her with Ðan.

“Yes sir!” Kida enthusiastically responded. Vinh grimaced for a moment before shaking it off.

“Anyways… I’ll take the side streets and alleys, Group two you got the market itself, and Group three you’ll handle rooftop patrol. Move out,” Vinh ordered. Splitting up, Group 2 with Ðan, Kida, Lệ, and Sa were left all alone to handle patrolling the market itself.

“Well, you heard the Captain guys. Let’s go,” Ðan motions for everyone to follow as he pushed forward through the cramped and increasingly crowded space.

“Jeez, not even noon and it looks pretty crowded,” Kida states. Chuckling, Lệ nudges the woman as she walks by her.

“If you think this is cramped, wait until you see the street markets back home in Sài Gòn. sh*t’s busy twenty-four seven,” Lệ remarked. No time to be wasted standing about, they would follow Ðan into the market. Just as they entered, civilians around took notice and would do their best to avoid bumping into them.

“At least we don’t have to bump and shove people away from us,” Sa observes. Guess that’s one perk being an occupier. People not wanting to engage with the soldiers like Kida, Ðan, Lệ, and Sa. Though it is probably telling just how feared they are if people are actively avoiding them.

In any case, Ðan’s group sets about patrolling the market area. With just the 4 of them, it will be quite the task. At least for Kida, she’s just happy enough to observe and learn something new about place so similar, yet so different from her hometown.

“Group two actual this is Group one actual, what’s your sitrep? Over,” The voice of Vinh crackled from the hand radio of Ðan.

“This is Group two actual, nothing substantial to report. Just civilians, civilians, and more civilians. With some shady vendors, possible scammers, sprinkled in. Over,” Ðan reported. He looks out over a crowd of people passing by and shopping or browsing the stalls. Sa sat on a crate and leaned up against a wall for another quick snooze. Kida would also be scanning the crowd for anything. And Lệ, she was leaning against the wall and snacked away at a power bar as she read what some of the signs said on the stall.

“Fresh chicken giblets… Chicken hearts… beef knuckle. Sounds just like home…” Lệ comments. A fly would come near her, making her swing her arms to keep it away from her power bar.

“Right down to the flies…” Lệ sneers before stuffing the rest of her bar into her mouth. Several hours have passed and it was by now peak traffic in the market. People bustling, stalls stacked with customers, all with chatters and shouts galore from people, and the occasional honk of a car.

“Copy that. Interrogative: have you found that cafe yet from the briefing with Chang? Over,” Vinh asked over the radio.

“We found it, no activity whatsoever as of this moment, over,” Ðan reported.

“Solid copy. Stay frosty Group two. If you see any suspicious persons moving in and out of the building or any suspicious activity whatsoever, you are to report in, and to only engage and deal with them on my permission, over,” Vinh ordered.

“Wilco. Group two actual out,” Ðan finished speaking into the radio. He looks over at Kida, still scanning the group. He shuffles over before patting her on the shoulder, making her look over at him.

“How are you holding up?” Ðan asked. Kida just shrugs.

“Fine I suppose,” Kida nonchalantly answers.

“Good, good. First time out patrolling?” Ðan pressed.

“Yeah, and it’s…” Kida trails off, trying to find some words.

“Boring?” Ðan finishes Kida’s thought to which she nodded.

“Yeah,” She affirms.

“Yeah, well get used it. Going to be doing this type of stuff for a long, long time. Sorry it didn’t turn out into what you may have expected,” Ðan stated. Kida would wave it off with her hand, however.

“It’s fine really. I’m glad to be up and about actually instead of sitting at a desk all day long!” Kida reassured. Ðan chuckles as he starts to take a sip out from his canteen.

“Yeah, beats desk work that’s for sure…” Ðan agreed.

“Anything beats desk work, and anything beats sitting around on our asses doing nothing,” Lệ spoke up as she took off her gloves to inspect her fingernails.

“I like it…” Sa joined in as well, helmet still covering his eyes.

“Shut up, you like anything as long as you get to sleep,” Lệ snarked.

“Indeed I do,” Sa admitted, earning a nudge from the grenadier. The group would just sit and stood around, watching and waiting for anything. Movement from the cafe they passed by, movement in the crowds passing by, even up on the roofs where they had spotted Group 3 a couple times.

“Đụ má. The worst part about patrol, has to be doing your best to not wish for something to happen,” Lệ remarked.

“Yeah, I hear that…” Ðan agreed as well. Suddenly, as if a prayer was answered, some commotion can be heard just down the street.

“Come on, come on! You got what it takes?!” A man shouted. Like a dog to its owner when called, Lệ perks up and looks over.

“I’m sensing some action…” Lệ mutters before getting off the wall. Ðan and Kida looked at each other for a moment. They shrug, might as well join her. Nudging Sa awake, the trio follows after Lệ to investigate the noise.

They would find a small congregation of people circling around amongst the sea of moving shoppers. Lệ pushed aside the onlookers, allowing for her and the rest of her group to get a closer look at what’s going on.

At the center, a metal crate serving as a makeshift table would be occupied by two men. One was tall and muscular in build while the other was shorter but still had some tone to his muscles. Another man circles around them, shouting.

“All bets are placed?! Good!” The man announced. Betting? But for what?

“Let’s see if this daring fella here got what it takes!” The announcer shouts again before going over to the “table”. The two men would raise one arm up. One left, the other right. They would then clasp their hands together. It wouldn’t take long for Lệ and the others to figure out what’s going on. Arm wrestling. A sight that Lệ’s eyes start to shine in excitement.

“Ready!” The announcer begins, raising an arm up. He looks between two men. Both are locked in gaze at each other. With a wide grin, the announcer snaps his arms down.

“Go!” He shouted. Instantly, the two men go at it. At first it seems as though both men were caught in a deadlock. Neither are their arms budging to be pushed down by the other.

Slowly but surely however, the much bigger man began to push his opponent’s arms down. Now matter how hard he tried to fight it, he couldn’t get his arm back up. It wouldn’t take long until the big man slammed his opponent’s hand down onto the crate.

The crowd erupts with some cheers and jeers for both challengers. Flinching, the much smaller man gets off and rubs his stinging hand after the slam. As for the big man, the announcer lifted his arm up in victory.

“Winner! So to those that lost their bets to this guy, but maybe don’t bet against the champ next time yeah?!” The announcer declared before going straight to counting the amount of money he had collected before distributing cuts to those that betted for the “champ”.

“Now, anyone else?!” The announcer challenged. Almost instantly, Lệ stepped forward raising her hand.

“Me!” She declared. Looking over, the Champ and the announcer stared at her. As did the crowd. Once they got a good look at her, both them and some of the crowd laughed and chuckled at the sight of Lệ. A short, young looking, girl wearing glasses would accept the challenge to arm wrestle the imposing Champ.

“Private, no,” Ðan promptly attempts to dissuade Lệ from partaking in the match.

“Come on, I got this!” Lệ reaffirms.

“No, are you forgetting our job right now?” Ðan pressed.

“Yeah! Besides, look at him! You’re going to get destroyed!” Kida hissed, trying to help get Lệ out.

“That’s not what I’m worried about…” Ðan mutters. Kida looked at him curiously. Lệ possibly losing and getting hurt from this is not what he’s concerned about?

“Lady, you sure? Ever heard of the phrase pick on somebody your own size?” The announcer taunted. Lệ would be glaring daggers after that. A menacing grin would soon grow on her face.

“Oh, he is my size,” Lệ sneers as she adjusted her glasses. She would hand Sa her rifle who took it without hesitation. Rolling up her sleeve, she shows off her toned arms. Then came the flex. Her entire arm tightened and bulged showing off just how much muscle she is packing for a woman her size.

“Oh boy, here we go…” Sa worriedly steps back bit.

“No stopping her now,” Ðan sighed. Kida would be in awe just how well built Lệ was actually. Whistling in surprise, the announcer chuckles.

“Well now, guess that evens it out a bit. Alright everyone, place your bets!” The announcer called out. Everyone immediately began handing over their money to the man. Sa and Ðan began pulling out their wallets.

“L-Lieutenant Nguyễn?” Kida uttered as she looks on in shock with how Ðan and Sa taking part in this.

“Take out your wallet and bet everything on Lệ…” Ðan ordered. Taken aback, Kida wasn’t sure what to say.

“Now!” Ðan urged. Surprised, Kida immediately does so despite her protests from earlier. The announcer came around and grabbed their money as with everyone else.

“Well, well, well. At least five to seven bets on the lady. The rest? To the Champ,” The announcer shows in one hand just how much everyone was betting on the bigger man compared to Lệ which was mainly just her group mates and some daring people willing to bet everything on her.

“Step up now, step up!” The announcer guided Lệ to her seat at the crate. Sitting down, she wasted no time propping her arm up for the Champ. He firmly grabs her hand. The two stared each other down, smiling and confident in their ability to win.

“Ready?” The announcer begins. Both Lệ and the Champ nodded their heads.

Again, the announcer lifts his arm. Despite the ever-loud market around them, the crowd watching Lệ and the Champ were quiet. Lệ’s group watched with Kida holding her breath. Finally, the announcer snaps his arm down.

“Go!” He shouted. Arm flexing and hand gripping tightly, Lệ fights against the big man’s push. The crowd watched in awe at how Lệ was able to hold her own and barely budge at all. Even the Champ was surprised how it didn’t turn out to be an easy match for him as her arm didn’t start to falter in the first few seconds.

Nevertheless, the Champ continues on. Minutes pass, and the stress of the match can be seen starting to build up in the Champ’s arms. Lệ however seems unfazed at all. She didn’t seem to be fighting back even. Almost as if she was holding back. By now, the Champ starts to give it his all.

“Get him Lệ!” Sa cheered. Those that betted on her joined in on the cheering. Even Ðan.

“Take him down, take him down!” Ðan chanted. Seeing just how Lệ was holding her own, Kida remained in stunned silence.

“Hey, quiet playing around man! Beat her!” The announcer comes in hissing into the Champ’s ear. He’s not even toying with her anymore. Yet, as hard as he went trying to fight Lệ, she would barely budge.

The Champ stops, his arm sagging a little. He takes a quick breather before looking over at Lệ. Smiling, she chuckled for a moment before leaning in.

“My turn…” Lệ whispers menacingly. In that moment, Lệ effortlessly slams the Champ’s hand down on the crate. The Champ flinched and reeled back before holding his hand. The announcer, crowd, and Kida were awestruck. Just like that, Lệ won. She raises her arms in victory, flexing her arms as well.

“How’s that for picking on somebody my own size?!” She roars triumphantly. Her supporters gathered around cheering and congratulating her.

“Pay up skinny!” Lệ points at the announcer. Grimacing, The announcer starts distributing the money to both her and those that betted on her. Ðan, Kida, and Sa would join in to both congratulate and collect their winnings.

“I can’t believe it!” Kida exclaims.

“Everything Lệ does is unbelievable. That is until you see it for yourself,” Sa comments.

“I can attest to that,” Ðan lightheartedly chimes in as he counts the money earned from winning the bet. All thanks to Lệ. Speaking of, she would currently be shaking hands and pushing people aside as begins to stand up.

Looking over, she sees the announcer standing over the Champ, who was still rubbing his hand, sulking and perhaps muttering something. Smiling, she taps the crate earning their attention. The small crowd gathered around her quickly went silent, wondering what she’s about to say.

“Maybe next time don’t judge a book by its cover,” Lệ leaves them with one last snip before pushing aside her newfound supporters to get back to her group. Rolling down her sleeve, she grabs her rifle from Sa.

“You did incredible back there!” Kida complimented the woman. Laughing, Lệ just waves it off.

“This is nothing, you should’ve seen me back when me and the squad were waiting around in Hong Kong to be shipped here,” Lệ starts to reminisce.

“Didn’t some of the locals there called you something? Princess Gorilla, was it?” Sa brings up. Lệ playfully shoves Sa who would laugh it off.

“f*ck off, such a stupid nickname,” Lệ would remember and voice her feelings about being called such a thing. If she could find the person that first started calling her that, she’d like to kick their ass across the Victoria Harbor.

The group would let out some laughs and jokes for a bit as they began to walk back to their original spot before they went to check out the arm-wrestling ring. As they walked back, Kida looked out in front of them.

The smile on her face slowly faded and instead had a curious look in her eyes. She stops Ðan, confusing the man a bit.

“What’s going on…?” Ðan questioned Kida. She would point over at the cafe they were supposed to keep an eye on. Looking over, Ðan, Lệ, and Sa could see two men. One with long hair reaching down to his shoulders and a beard. The other was wearing a beanie and hoodie. The hooded man was carrying a box, currently revealing the contents to the other man.

“Take up and hold positions,” Ðan orders. Springing into action, Lệ and Sa quickly get behind some cover to conceal themselves. Kida looks between Ðan and the others for a moment only to be shooed away by Ðan. She quickly takes cover alongside Lệ behind a thankfully unattended stall.

“Group one actual, come in Group one actual. This is Group two actual, over,” Ðan attempts to hail Vinh over radio. It wouldn’t take long to get a response from the captain.

“This is Group one actual, what’s your sitrep Group two? Over,” Vinh responds.

“Got two suspicious individuals hanging out in front of the cafe. Looks like one of them is carrying a suspicious package, over,” Ðan informs Vinh of what he and his group are currently watching. As they watched, the long-haired man nodded before opening up the door of the cafe for the hooded man to walk in. The long-haired man would walk in as well before closing the door.

“They just entered the cafe, over,” Ðan updated.

“Roger, anything else you see? Over,” Vinh asked.

“Negative. What’s our plan of action? Over,” Ðan asked, now’s their chance to bust an insurgent cell. There was a moment of silence as Vinh was probably thinking of something. The radio crackled back to life soon after.

“Group two actual, you are clear to investigate and arrest any suspicious individuals. ROE still stands. Do not engage unless fired upon or given the go ahead by your CO. Group three will be covering you from the rooftops. Still, proceed with caution. If it has to come to it, you are to also radio Group one for reinforcements, over,” Vinh instructs Ðan.

“Wilco, Group two actual out,” Ðan finished and ended the transmission. He would quickly jog and make his way towards the cafe. He motions for everyone to follow him.

“Let’s go, we got the go ahead to investigate,” Ðan informs as he pushed and weaved his way through the crowd.

“Oh man, that’s two!” Lệ excitedly followed after Ðan. Order given, the group follows Ðan through the crowd and towards the cafe. By the time they reach the entrance of the cafe, Group 3 could be spotted by Ðan overlooking them and in position.

Cao could be seen setting up the bipod for the Negev as Bảo and Diệu were ready to cover them from any surprise threat. With their safety assured, Ðan reaches out for the door handle. He looks back at his group mates for a moment.

“Take it easy you guys. We don’t know a lot of things like the relationship with the cafe to insurgents, relations to us, who those men are, if they are armed, or whatever. So please, follow my lead, and keep your cool. You especially Kida,” Ðan looks over at their plus one JSDF officer. While nervous, Kida nodded her head and was ready to follow in after Ðan.

Taking a deep breath, Ðan opens the door to the cafe. The bell over the door rings, alerting some patrons and the owner to their presence. Ðan kept his rifle lowered as he entered the cafe, followed by Kida, Lệ, and Sa.

The cafe looked innocent enough. It was a little dirty, with dust in some places, worn walls, and scuffed floor. Still, people sat around and ate or drank. A person worked behind a counter where a patron sat drinking a cup of coffee. All eyes were on the door and on the group entering.

One by one, the rest of the group entered the cafe. Those staring at them quickly looked back down at their meals, drinks, or smartphones. The person working the counter meanwhile, greets them with a nervous smile.

“H-Hello,” They nervously raised and waved their hand. Waving back, Ðan motions for his group mates to take a quick look around the area as he walks overs to the counter. He keeps his rifle lowered, doing his best to ease any tension created from their entrance.

“Lieutenant Nguyễn of the PAVN and SEAC peacekeeping force,” Ðan introduced himself. The worker nodded in acknowledgement.

“We don’t get too many Sea Sea guys here. Especially Vietnamese. I don’t suppose you guys are here for a cup, are you?” The worker notes.

“That’s right. Routine patrol. Had reports of some suspicious looking individuals near here,” Ðan would inform the worker of the situation.

“Actually, we just spotted two men enter in this very cafe carrying a package of some kind,” Ðan reveals. For a moment, the worker was silent, seemingly processing the information.

“You must’ve seen them come in, right?” Ðan questioned. That would get the worker to break their silence as they instead shrugged.

“I’m sorry, I don’t believe I saw such men,” They answered. Ðan wouldn’t be happy with that answer.

“I assure you that disclosing important information will not get you in trouble,” Ðan pressed. Still, the worker shook their head. As Ðan interrogated the worker, his group scanned and carefully searched the cafe.

“I swear, I did not see such people. In fact, I just came over here to work the counter when the owner suddenly grabbed me out back. Those men you describe may just be family members. They frequently come over and they sometimes hang out up above on the second floor. The owner’s apartment,” The worker reveals, pointing up at the ceiling. Intel gathered, Ðan nodded before stepping back.

“I’ll verify that. Thank you for your time,” Ðan gives his gratitude to the worker. Turning, he spots the stairs leading up to the second floor before walking over.

“On me everyone,” Ðan orders as he makes his way to the stairs. Sa followed, with Kida and Lệ covering the rear. Making their way up the stairs, they would find themselves at a hallway with two doors. One on the left, the other on the right.

The four cautiously make their way down the hall. The muffled noise of music can be heard on the left door. Must be the apartment the worker was talking about. Ðan motions for his group to stack up on the door.

It would take Kida second to realize what was going on before going over to hug the wall by the doorway. Ðan would take up position on the other side of the doorway. Reaching over, he carefully knocks on the door three times.

No response. The volume of the music seems to lower, however. Again, Ðan reaches over and gives the door three more knocks.

“Who’s there?” The owner finally responds.

“PAVN of the SEAC peacekeeping force! Open up!” Ðan shouts. There was pause as the music was then completely shut off. At first, Ðan was considering having the door broken in after waiting for a good couple more minutes. That was until the door can be heard being unlocked. Ðan got off the wall and in front of the door and signaled his group to do the same.

The door opens, and revealing themself would be a middle-aged man wearing glasses and a bald spot on his head.

“How can I help you?” The man, obviously nervous, asked.

“We’re here on report of suspicious individuals hanging around. We just spotted two such men with a package entering this building,” Ðan explains. The owner’s eyes light up as he has a knowing look on his face.

“Oh, I see. You must’ve seen my delivery men,” The owner explains his side.

“Delivery men?” Ðan questions. The owner nods as he opens his door wider.

“Yes, separate from my food delivery men for my cafe. They deliver my groceries. I know it’s funny considering I live in the middle of a market. But you see…” The man points down at his legs.

“... One of my legs isn't well… Working right. I can’t go out as much as I’d like to. So, I have men deliver my groceries to me instead,” The man explains. Stepping aside, the owner allows Ðan and his group to enter his apartment.

“Please, come in and see for yourself,” The owner gestures for Ðan and the others. Stepping in, everyone could see that the owner’s living room was pretty sparse save for a television set, coffee table, and some chairs. Next to a window that has the view over the market was a photo, presumably of the man in his younger years and a woman, hanging. A bookshelf with some books of course and memorabilia.

“This way,” The owner leads the Ðan to the kitchen. Before he could follow, Ðan signals for everyone to do a quick check around the man’s apartment. Joining up with the owner, Ðan would find the kitchen with your usual cabinets, electric oven, refrigerator, and counter. Opening the fridge, the owner points at vegetables, fruits, and other food stuff.

“See here? Stuff those kind men brought me today,” The owner pointed out. While Ðan observes the fridge, Kida checks out the bookshelf. Just some novels, both fiction and nonfiction. A biography here and there. What stood out the most for her however was a little display case hidden away on one of the upper shelves.

Kida reminds herself of what she is supposed to be doing. She shouldn’t pry at the owner’s personal belongings. Glancing over, she sees Sa checking inside the bathroom, while Lệ checks under the seats and the cushions. Checking on Ðan he was still going over foodstuffs with the owner.

Well, maybe just one look. I mean it's a display case, whatever is inside is meant to be looked at. Carefully reaching up, Kida brings the display case down before inspecting the contents inside. Some medals. Military medals.

Kida blinks in surprise for a bit. Examining the medals, they were a Medal of Performing Combat Mission, bronze Medal of National Defense Service, and a golden Medal of Guarding the Frontier. The gold medal was the most striking one for her.

“All groceries,” Ðan surmised as the owner made him go over his entire fridge.

“What I still don't get is where the men are?” Ðan questions

“That I can explain too. As you may have noticed, the streets are busy this time of day. Thus, I allow them to exit through the back and make their next delivery through the back streets,” The owner explains. Seems reasonable at first, still Ðan was curious.

“What about the door across your apartment?” Ðan points out, remembering that from earlier.

“Oh, that’s a utility closet. The rooftop entrance is there too. It’s locked and I have the key to it,” The owner explains that part. Ðan nods, seems the owner has nothing to hide and isn’t mingling with any insurgents. With the fridge checked out, two men turn to check back up on the others. They would find Kida looking through the owner’s things.

“See something lieutenant?” The owner called out. Jumping, she glances back to see Ðan and the owner looking at her. She quickly puts the display of medals back.

“N-No! I’m sorry! I was just curious! Besides, it’s my job to investigate and-” Kida rambles and tries to explain herself. The owner just laughs it off as he walks over.

“It’s alright, a bunch of the youth couldn’t believe a frail looking man like me was once in the military,” The owner chuckles as he walks over to the bookshelf.

“Those were the days. When we were on more… Friendlier terms…” The owner starts to reminisce as he reaches up and rubs the display case. Kida looked over at Ðan who just shrugged. Lệ and Sa glanced at one another, wondering what’s going on.

“Anyways, thank you for your time, sir. Sorry for intruding on you. We’ll be leaving now,” Ðan announced, gesturing for everyone to follow him out the door.

“It’s all fine, I’m always glad to have people come over,” The owner waves it off before following to see them out. The group would exit the man’s apartment and begin making their way to the front door of the cafe again. The man follows them out.

“If you’d like, you can come over and get a cup of coffee or even cake,” The owner encourages.

“Sounds nice,” Sa liked the idea. Possibly when they finally get some liberty. The group makes their way down the stairs to the cafe. With the reports confirmed, this cafe is just that. A cafe. Is what was supposed to happen.

As she walked down the steps, something catches Kida in the corner of her eye. Stopping, she looks down the left side of the steps. Something was parted open. Like a door.

“Lieutenant…” Kida called out. Glancing over, Ðan sees Kida pointing down. Leaning over, Ðan spots the slightly parted door as well. Looking back up at the top of the steps, Ðan sees the owner staring down at them.

“Is something the matter?” The owner asked.

“Missed a spot,” Ðan simply responded before he hurries down the steps.

“Everyone on me,” Ðan ordered. Rifles ready, everyone hurried down the stairs and over to the hidden door.

“W-Wait…!” The owner tries to stop them as he carefully makes his way down.

The group huddles around the door. Opening up, Ðan reveals another set of stairs leading down. Besides that, a distinct smell was emanating from down below. The owner catches up to them.

“You don't need to go down there! There's nothing quite frankly,” The owner attempts to dissuade the group from investigating any further.

“What is then?” Kida asked.

“It’s the basem*nt. Nothing but storage for old things and equipment,” The owner hurriedly explains. That would only raise Ðan’s suspicions. Rifle raised, he goes down first, followed by Kida, Sa, and Lệ.

As they carefully make their way down, the smell would only grow stronger. Followed by what sounded like laughter. Nearing the bottom, Ðan halts the group. He leans down to take a peek at what’s going on.

He sees a group of people sitting around on a couch, with a map of the city laid out over a table. Nearby, a table nearby had some serious military tech radios on it. That was enough for Ðan to make a call.

He signals for his group to prepare themselves. Silent, they listen as the other group in the basem*nt laugh and talk to each other in Mandarin. Ðan holds three fingers up. He starts to countdown.

One….. Two…. Three.

The group rushes down and immediately point their weapons at the basem*nt dwellers.

“Hands up!” Ðan shouts. The group jumped and were surprised by Ðan and his group’s sudden appearance.

“Arms up and spread-out bitches!” Lệ shouts. That would knock them out of their stupor as they all raised their arms high into the air. Two of them were the men spotted earlier entering the cafe. The other had on sunglasses and a cap, while the other was a woman with her hair wrapped into twin buns.

“D-Don’t shoot!” The hooded man pleaded.

“Please don’t shoot!” The long-haired man pleaded as well.

“We’re not armed! We surrender!” The sunglasses wearing man shouts. The twin bun hair girl kicks him.

“Shut up! You’re giving them the wrong idea!” She scolded harshly. Kida takes one step forwards, startling the woman as she raises her arms higher. With the possible insurgents cornered, the group was allowed to take the entire room in greater detail. One detail that would be first observed was the smell.

They were hit full force by it, and it was coming from the youths sitting around the couch. The group recoils and cringe as the smell invades their nostrils. Kida would lower her rifle before plugging her nose.

“Ugh! Get a load of these guys!” Lệ grimaced as she too plugs her nose. Taking another whiff, Ðan would slowly but surely be reminded of something by the smell. He felt like he knew exactly what it was.

“Load? These guys are loaded. They’re… High!” Ðan pinpointed the smell. What they were high off of, he couldn’t tell just yet. Walking over, Sa investigates the table.

“And I think I know what they’re high off of…” Sa surmised. He leans over and picks up a joint. A joint of…

“Weed,” Sa promptly deduced before putting back down the joint. Ðan glanced over at Sa before back at the basem*nt dwellers. They flinch for a moment. On closer look, they seem a lot younger. Like they’re in their teens.

“What are you four doing down here?” Ðan begins interrogating them.

“S-Smoking…” The long-haired one simply answered. Obvious enough, Ðan then motions at the table with his rifle.

“What’s with the map?” Ðan pressed. Sitting up, the sunglass wearing teen leans over to grab one of the lit joint rolls.

“We don’t have any ashtrays, so we just use the maps they give out to tourists. See look,” He explains. Lifting the joint, he shakes some ash off and onto the map.

“Mind if I get a quick puff in sir?” The young man asked. A bewildered Kida and Lệ looked to each other before raising their rifles again. The sunglass wearing man promptly drops his joint back down on the table.

“Okay never mind!” He quickly changed his mind as he raised his arms again. That’s two questions answered. Now the elephant in the room. The radio. Ðan looks over at Sa and would signal him to turn on the radio.

“You kids listening in on our movement and collecting intel?” Ðan questioned. They all shook their heads furiously.

“N-No no no! Never!” The twin bun hair girl refutes. Sa looks over the radio. Definitely military. Chinese even. Looks to be upgraded hastily with parts. Reaching over, he switches the radio on. What came out was something Ðan, Kida, Sa, and Lệ didn’t expect to hear. Rock, surf rock to be more exact.

“♪I have waited such a long, long time. For someone like you to love…♫” The radio came to life with a song. Ðan by now was bewildered by this scene as was Kida. By now he lowered his rifle, as did everyone else when they fully realized that these people before them weren't a threat.

“Ayy, nice taste in music though,” Lệ breaks the awkward silence as she jams out to the song. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Ðan sighs as he pressed his radio.

“Group one actual, this is Group two actual,” Ðan hails Vinh again.

“Group one actual here, have you guys searched the cafe yet?” Vinh asked.

“Yes sir, and those reports are false. Nothing’s here, just a bunch of youths smoking weed and listening to music,” Ðan reports. There was a pause as Vinh didn’t respond right away.

“I’m sorry, can you say that again?” Vinh requested, uncertainty in his tone.

“Just some kids getting high and listening to music,” Ðan repeated. Another pause

“Roger that, report back to the police station. Group one actual out,” Vinh ordered before ending the transmission. With that, Ðan turns around only to be greeted by the owner.

“I…” The owner starts, fumbling a bit as he tries to find words.

“Would you mind explaining all of… This?” Ðan gestures to the people in the owner’s basem*nt.

“Well, back during the siege, I helped hide some people in the basem*nt. From the bombings and artillery. These four here were such people who I helped. During the siege, I also help to ease their worries by giving them a radio. Allowed the smoke in my basem*nt. Since then, I allow them to come over. Hide them from authorities for… Smoking such things,” The owner explains, pointing out the weed they have. Looking back at the four on the couch, they begin to ease up and lower their arms.

“We’re not in trouble are we, sir?” The hooded teen asked. Ðan sighs as he shakes his head.

“No of course not,” Ðan assures them.

“Why the edge you guys?” Lệ asked, wondering why they’re so anxious about them. Seeing how nervous they are around them, Kida suddenly gets an idea.

“Oh that’s right!” Kida exclaims.

“What’s what?" Sa wondered.

“China is… Or was one of few nations to still have marijuana outlawed,” Kida brings up. Right, one of many laws the PRC upheld alongside censorship, dress codes, the like. Ðan just waves it off as he starts to make his way back up the stairs.

“Well we’re not China. Keep on smoking you four! Just stay out of trouble and stay in school. We don’t control your lives,” Ðan assures them again. Looking over at Kida, the owner smiled and bowed his head.

“Such kindness you people showed me and these four today. I will not forget it,” The owner showed his gratitude.

“Yeah, thanks,” The hooded teen chuckled nervously as did the others.

“Maybe you guys aren’t so bad after all,” The girl was relieved.

“Of course we’re not bad! I mean, how can I not be my perfect self if I don’t get my party in every now and then yeah?” Lệ jokes around. Lightly laughing, Sa pats Lệ on her shoulder as he walks past.

“Perfect, yeah right. Don’t remember you being perfect that one night in Hong Kong,” Sa pokes some fun at Lệ.

“Hey! I said no talking about that!” Lệ shouts as she follows after Sa. Last one in the room, Kida bows her head before leaving.

“Thank you for your time everyone. Really,” Kida gives her farewell.

“No problem! Hey, maybe you guys can come around some time and hang out, yeah?” The long-haired teen suggested.

“We’ll see!” Kida shouts from the stairs before following the others back up to the cafe. Out of all the patrols she heard of, read of, and seen in shows and movies, this was the last thing she’d expect to see on her first patrol.

Frankly, that’s okay.

Kida finishes up the rest of her paperwork. She checks her PDA. The time was 2030 hours. She was slightly surprised. Guess time passes when you’re doing paperwork. Especially when it’s from both the PAVN and JGSDF.

Everything from inventory of own equipment, reports, health status, and other miscellaneous work. Kida sighs as she leans back into her chair. Guess that’s one flaw when it comes to being a liaison between two different armies.

She stares at the roof of her personal trailer for a moment before closing her eyes. Both to maybe take a quick power nap, and to reminisce on today so far. She had just come to the planet of Ming since this morning, was assigned to Captain Trần’s company, went out on patrol, found a weed den, and was back at base doing paperwork.

So much in so little time. It was unbelievable, but this was Kida’s assignment now. No more sitting behind a desk, doing stacks of paperwork back to back, fetching coffee for her compatriots, and hopefully no more being called a clumsy desk jockey by her friends. Kida can’t help but sigh at the thought.

Just in the middle of relishing her thoughts, a set of knocks on her trailer door surprised Kida. She flails about and would tip her chair over. Groaning, Kida quickly gets up, pick up her chair, and dusts herself off. Another set of knocks rattled the door.

“Coming!” Kida shouts. She quickly jogs over to her door and promptly open it. Standing outside would be none other than Vinh and Ðan. Smiling, Ðan greets her with a wave.

“Yo, what’s up?” Ðan prefaced with. Kida was confused for a bit. What are they doing all the way over here on the JGSDF side of the camp?

“I’m fine… What are you two doing here?” Kida asked.

“We’re here to invite you,” Vinh reveals. The Japanese lieutenant tilted her head.

“Invite? Me? To where?” Kida puts forth three questions. All of which would be answered by Ðan.

“Of course! Just over to the officer’s club on our side of the camp. Just a couple of drinks. What do you say?” Ðan offered. Kida blinks and glances down at her PDA. It was still pretty early to sleep in now. She could maybe spare the time. Bringing her eyes back up to Ðan, Kida nods her head.

“Sure,” She accepted the kind gesture. Kida closes the door to her trailer for a moment before heading over to grab and don her cap. She promptly opens and leaves her trailer before locking it.

“Ready to go!” Kida enthusiastically states. Ðan couldn’t help but chuckle. Vinh looks away for a moment.

“We’ve been through hours of being out on in the city, some nothing, and a false alarm but you’re still chipper,” Ðan points out.

“Ehe, sorry. Guess anything that doesn’t keep me at a desk gets me all pumped,” Kida sheepishly explains.

“It’s all good. Come on, lets get that drink,” Ðan motions for Kida to follow him. The trio would get on their way, making their way over to the PAVN side of the camp. The sun is setting quickly, troopers and officers alike walk by, greeted them, and left to go do some last-minute work.

On their way to the PAVN officer’s club, they pass by one of the recreation tents for the normal enlisted. Some cheers can be heard inside. Ðan and Vinh paid no mind as they pass. Kida however was curious.

Inside, Lệ and Vũ were playing a game, arguing and shouting amongst each other. Hải would be observing the two with mild amusem*nt and surprise. Cao was currently playing some dominoes with Bảo. Diệu was occupying the off-world computer, chatting with someone. And Sa? Taking a nap.

“Kida!” Vinh calls out. Jumping, Kida realizes she was lagging behind before rushing over to Vinh and Ðan. She’d find them standing just outside at one of the prefab buildings. The sign for it was in Vietnamese and English. Officer’s club.

“For a second we thought you got lost,” Ðan jokes. He would open the door for both Vinh and Kida to enter.

“Ladies first~.” He graciously says, poking some fun at the same time as well. Vinh rolls his eyes as he walks in. Giving a nod of thanks, Kida enters after. Inside, Kida would be greeted to the sight of tables with officers of various ranks sitting and drinking or eating snacks. An NCO would be manning the counter which was mostly empty compared to the tables. There were jukeboxes and some televisions mounted to the roof. Two for the corners and one just above the counter. Kida looks around a bit astonished.

“Woah…” Kida was surprisingly amazed by the club. Ðan and Vinh looked at each other in confusion and perhaps a bit amused by Kida’s reaction.

“You Japanese don’t have an officer’s club where you’re at or something?” Ðan amusingly asks. Looking back, Kida again sheepishly chuckles.

“W-We do. It’s just well… Never seen and felt one be so… Homely before,” Kida describes the place. Ðan shrugs.

“Must be the cheap booze and dirty floor talking. Let’s sit at the counter,” Ðan points over at the counter. The trio would seat themselves in front of the bartender.

“Vinh, Ðan, good to see you two,” The bartender noticed them. They would tilt their head however at Kida.

“Who’s she?” They asked as they pointed at her.

“Our liaison,” Vinh promptly answered. Not really feeling the need to explain everything to them.

“Oh… Well, what are you three getting?” They asked.

“Just the usual for both me and Ðan,” Vinh requested. The bartender then turns their head to Kida.

“Got anything light?” She asked. Before they can answer, Ðan leans over.

“Light? Taking it easy tonight? We don’t have patrol duty tomorrow y’know,” Ðan informs Kida. She shook her head.

“Got to stay vigilant. Can’t allow a chance for any unexpected force to get the drop on us. That and well I might not hear the end of it from the MPs…” Kida proudly states, before lowering her voice at the last part. Ðan chuckles before glancing back at the bartender.

“Get her what we’re having,” Ðan requested. With a nod, the bartender turns around before turning back suddenly.

“Bottle or glass?” They asked.

“Give us bottles for all of us,” Vinh answered. With the snap of their finger, the bartender turns back around before bending down behind the counter.

“Hey, play some music! Get some music! Too quiet in this place tonight!” A drunk voice shouted across the room. Some laughter ensues as a man stood up from his seat before marching over to the jukebox. He pressed some buttons and soon, the jukebox came to life with the riffs of a guitar.

“♫Có ai trên đời mà không yêu! Dù cho tình yêu chông gai!♪” The jukebox plays a Vietnamese rock song. Vinh and Kida look on at the sight with a slightly amused look while Ðan bobbed his head along.

“Some ambience, yeah? Not even midnight yet,” Ðan jokes around. As the trio stare, the bartender comes back up with ice cold bottles of beer in hand with the caps already popped off. They set them down on the counter, announcing their arrival to the three before pulling out a scanner. Without a word, Vinh pulls out his personal smartphone.

“Thanks,” Vinh simply thanked before allowing the bartender to scan his phone to take payment. With a nod, they walk off to attend to other parts of the bar. Kida would grab her bottle before looking it over. She gives it a sniff before recoiling slightly. That’s strong beer alright.

“It’s not good beer, but it’s cheap and strong enough to get through the night,” Ðan describes.

“Yeah, I can definitely smell it,” Kida concurred, which got Ðan to chuckle.

“Captain…?” Ðan looks over at the man who was silent. He would turn his head towards the Lieutenant in response, however.

“Got something to say?” Ðan asked. Vinh stares at Ðan for a bit before turning to Kida. She was curious what Ðan meant as she locked eyes with Vinh for a moment.

“Well… Lieutenant Kida, good work out there today,” Vinh commended. Kida blinked for a moment, a smile slowly growing on her lips.

“I-I’m sorry, what do you mean by that?” Kida asked.

“I mean good work out on patrol today. Ðan told me how you spotted both those two teens and the stairs leading down to the basem*nt earlier today. Most people wouldn’t bat an eye at those things,” Vinh explained. Even though she is smiling, Kida can’t help but shake her head.

“Sir, it was just a false alarm. Besides, anyone could use their eyes,” Kida would downplay her actions today.

“Humble, I like that. Just as much as I like how even though it was a false alarm, you acted accordingly as if it were a possible threat. Without confirming it, we could’ve done something worse and would jeopardize our relations to the locals. And yes, anyone can use their eyes, but fewer have the initiative to act on what they see. For a first timer, you did well on the field today. Dare I say better than Ðan on his first time,” Vinh poked fun at the man who lightly shoves him in response.

“Ồ là ơi, you still on that? It was the baker’s fault he made the cakes look like land mines! Even made the colors look the same,” Ðan jokingly fussed. Vinh would chuckle for the first time in attendance of Kida.

“Anyways, what I’m trying to say is. Good work, and I hope to see more of that from you in the future. To you,” Vinh raised his bottle for her along with Ðan. Kida’s smile would only grow bigger as she raised her bottle as well.

“Thank you, Captain Trần,” Kida thanked, having been greatly flattered by Vinh’s little pep talk.

“Pleasure is all mine,” Vinh returned the gesture. Before they could clink their bottles, Ðan leaned over again.

“Y’know I’ve been thinking about something. What’s your name exactly again? All we got out of you so far was just Kida,” Ðan asked. Right, she never really properly introduced herself. Just as Lieutenant Kida.

“Oh, sorry. Guess it slipped my mind this entire day. What with so many things happening. It’s Usami. Usami Kida, or Kida Usami. Whichever you prefer,” Kida reveals.

“Well then, cheers to you, Lieutenant Kida Usami,” Ðan raises his beer bottle again. The other two do as well before finally clinking together. They all took one quick swig. First thing Kida noticed was how bold it was. Once she finished her swig, she pounded her chest and coughed a bit as she swallowed it down. The two men beside her watch in amusem*nt of her reaction to it.

“S-Sorry! Ahem! Don’t really drink that much stronger alcohol besides sake. Whew!” Kida excused herself as she clears her throat. Vinh and Ðan would just let out some light laughter in response, hearing them laughing would get Kida laughing as well.

Three officers, two from Earth, one from another solar system. Yet they are all here. Millions of miles away from their homes, supposed to be keeping the peace and putting down those that dare break it.

Right now however, they’re not doing it. They’d rather be drinking beer, listening to some music, and maybe watch whatever’s on T.V. as they chat and laugh sitting at the counter.

For a species to have developed space travel and colonized planets to the point of being able to wage war on them, nothing much has changed. Beyond it all, it’s always nice to have someone by your side, keeping one’s mind off the reality of their situation.

Paving the Way to Peace - OperationEnthusiast (2024)
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